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Birthplace of Women’s Rights

Leading up to the Convention of 1848

Elizabeth Cady was born in Johnstown, New York, on November 22, 1815, the daughter of Daniel Cady, a lawyer, judge and land speculator, and Margaret Livingston Cady.  In many respects her upbringing was not typical of young ladies at this time.  She was educated at a local boys’ school and graduated from the Troy Female Seminary in Troy, NY in 1832.  She met Henry Brewster Stanton in Peterboro, NY, at the home of her cousin Gerrit Smith and married Henry, against her family’s wishes, on May 1, 1840, in a ceremony that omitted the vow to “obey.”  Their honeymoon was a trip to the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London, where Henry was a delegate representing the American Anti-Slavery Society.

After the 1840 convention, the Stantons returned to Johnstown.  Then Henry and Elizabeth set up housekeeping in Boston, where Henry began a practice.  Elizabeth’s father had given her a house he owned at 32 Washington Street in Seneca Falls.

Lucretia Mott of Philadelphia, a famous Quaker reformer, was among the female delegates sent from the floor.  In the women’s section, she met Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who shared her indignation at the treatment of women.

A Tea Party in Waterloo, NY

On July 9, 1848, Jane Hunt, a Hicksite Quaker (also known as Progressive Friends) invited Mary Ann M’Clintock, a Waterloo Quaker abolitionist; Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who had recently moved with her husband Henry and children to a home in Seneca Falls; and Martha Coffin Wright of Auburn, who was the sister of Lucretia Mott to tea at her home (the address today is 401 East Main Street, Waterloo).  Lucretia Mott and her husband James had attended the Genesee Yearly Meeting (of a group of Quakers), and then were making an extended visit with her sister Martha Coffin Wright of Auburn.

The McClintock home in Waterloo, New York

One can easily imagine that these ladies heard Elizabeth Cady Stanton share her frustrations about her newfound understanding of women’s “proper sphere” and her vehement complaints about its injustice.  One can be fairly sure that Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth remembered their vow in 1840 in London to hold a convention about the injustices of women.  The ladies decided to hold a women’s rights convention to call their grievances to the attention of the public.  That same day they wrote a notice that appeared in the local Seneca County Courier newspaper on July 11 and 14, 1848.  Deliberately the women left the notice unsigned.

Planning a Convention in Seneca Falls

Deliberately the women left the notice unsigned.  Stanton drew up a draft declaration for the convention.  She took it with her to the M’Clintock’s house on Sunday, July 16, so that the M’Clintocks, especially Elizabeth (the twenty-seven years old daughter of Thomas and Mary) could review it.  At that same gathering, the group would also write appropriate resolutions and consider topics for speeches.  They decided to call their main manifesto a “Declaration of Sentiments” after the founding document of the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1833.  The declaration was based on the Declaration of Independence.  Stanton, however, came to the conclusion that women must have a right to vote.  Stanton got the M’Clintocks to agree that the draft Declaration of Sentiments would include the wording that man had never permitted woman “to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise.” Resolution number nine included the wording “resolved, that it is the duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise.” Henry Stanton was so opposed to this proposed resolution that he would not attend the convention.

The First Women’s Rights Convention of 1848

No men would take part in the first day’s proceedings.  They would be listeners only, not speakers.  Some children accompanied their mothers to the proceedings.  The first order of business was appointing Mary Ann M’Clintock as secretary.  She would take clear notes for both days of the convention.  Elizabeth Cady Stanton made clear that the purpose of this meeting was to discuss the “social, civil, and religious condition and rights of woman.”  Stanton then introduced the draft Declaration of Sentiments which was read. Many, including Lucretia Mott, were surprised to learn that it advocated voting rights for women.  The draft Declaration was reread and discussed.  Some changes were made and the Declaration wording was adopted for formal presentation to the second day of the convention.  The wording of eleven resolutions was also agreed to.  These also would be presented on the second day of the convention for formal approval.  There was debate as to whether or not to seek the signatures of men to the Declaration.  The ladies present simply decided to defer this issue until the second day.  Although technically not a part of the convention proceedings, that evening Lucretia Mott spoke by candlelight on the progress of various reforms—temperance, antislavery, peace, etc.— in an attempt to put woman’s rights into the larger context of reform in general.  She concluded her remarks with an invitation to the gentlemen “to let their voices be heard on the great subject” of women’s rights.  Only Frederick Douglass made a response.

The organizing ladies invited James Mott, who was experienced in running meetings, to serve as chair.  Stanton then began reading the draft Declaration of Sentiments.  The preamble contained only one major change from the Declaration of Independence—instead of saying that “all men are created equal” it said that “all men and women are created equal.”  Then the draft Declaration of Sentiments dealt with a listing of grievances of woman because of what man has done.  It began by asserting four charges dealing with civil and political rights such as “he [man] has never permitted her [woman] to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise.”  The second major category dealt with legal discrimination, especially for married women.  Then it dealt with the rights of women in work, education, and the church.  The last set of charges highlighted the values that supported the whole system of oppression.  As a final comment about the effect of these grievances, the draft Declaration of Sentiments emphasized that the pattern of discrimination had the ultimate effect of destroying the self-confidence and self-respect of individual women.  The document concluded by insisting that women have immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of the United States.

Signers of the Declaration of Sentiments, Library of Congress

Following Stanton’s reading of the declaration presented at the first day of the convention, the floor was opened for discussion.  The Declaration of Sentiments was adopted unanimously on late Thursday morning.  The adopted Declaration of Sentiments was then offered up for people to sign.  One hundred signed the document.  Sixty-eight women signed on the document itself while thirty-two men signed a separate list “in favor of the document.”  This separate signing was a compromise between those (including Stanton) who wanted women to make their own demands and those who believed men also should have a voice.

On the Sunday after the Seneca Falls convention, the Reverend Horace P. Bogue, pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Seneca Falls, preached a sermon opposing woman’s rights.  Stanton and Mary Ann M’Clintock sat in the pews and took notes of what he said.

The negative reactions to the Seneca Falls convention clearly intimidated many signers, especially women, of the Declaration.  In her autobiography, Stanton stated that “So pronounced was the popular voice against us, in the parlor, press, and pulpit that most of the ladies who had attended the convention and signed the declaration, one by one, withdrew their names and influence and joined our persecutors.  Our friends gave us the cold shoulder and felt themselves disgraced by the whole proceeding.”

A Second Convention

On August 2, a sequel to the Seneca Falls convention was held in Rochester.  Organized by Amy Post and her abolitionist Quaker friends, it was attended by several of those who had attended the Seneca Falls convention: Stanton, Amy Post, Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth and Mary Ann M’Clintock, Sarah and Mary Hallowell, Catharine Stebbins, and Frederick Douglass.  The Rochester convention adopted the Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments in its entirety, with 107 signatures.

The Work Must Forge Onward

“When Anthony Met Stanton” statue on East Bayard Street overlooking Van Cleef Lake
by sculptor Ted Aub, 1999.

Stanton and M’Clintock undertook a writing crusade.  They wrote a letter to the editor of the Seneca County Courier to respond to the anti-woman’s rights sermon of the Reverend Bogue.  Stanton spoke at various Quaker gatherings (September in Waterloo and to the Congregational Friends in Farmington in October).  She and the other ladies organized petitions to be sent to the New York state legislature.  Others joined in efforts to secure woman’s rights.  By October, Emily Collins of South Bristol organized the Woman’s Equal Rights Union.

A Chance Meeting

On May 12, 1851, Anthony was introduced to Susan B. Anthony by Amelia Jenks Bloomer.  Anthony had come to Seneca Falls to hear the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison speak.  When they happened to come upon one another on a street corner after that evening program, they were formally introduced.  Thus began what would become a famous working collaboration of Stanton and Anthony in the effort to secure woman’s rights.

Credit: Adapted from Walter Gable, Seneca County Historian, The Written History of Seneca County, NY, “Birthplace of Women’s Rights Movement in Seneca County”;